Investing in local solar can help Illinois meet clean energy targets and save ratepayers money

  • Lesley McCain

    Lesley McCain

  • Rob Sargent

    Rob Sargent

By Lesley McCain and Rob Sargent
Guest columnists
Updated 5/21/2021 4:40 PM

Illinois is poised to make far-reaching decisions about how we power our homes and businesses with clean energy.

State leaders have been debating for more than two years about comprehensive energy policy that will shape our energy system for decades. They need to finish the job and vote on a bill before the legislative session ends May 31.


As these debates heat up, policymakers should pay attention to a new analysis that highlights the immense benefits that rooftop and community solar can provide to Illinois' electric system, our monthly electricity bills, and our climate.

We have always known that distributed, local solar projects provide significant societal benefits, such as more equitable access to clean energy savings for underserved communities, economic development and job creation, grid resiliency, as well as competition and innovation. But we haven't been able to pinpoint exactly what those benefits would look like for Illinois consumers.

That is, until now.

Last week, a new analysis using an advanced utility planning model, demonstrated that installing 8.5 gigawatts (GW) of local rooftop and community solar by 2030 as part of a mix to achieve a 100% carbon-free electrified economy would save Illinois residents $3.4 billion and reduce electric rates by 43% through 2050.

This means that by building more local rooftop and community solar, we can shave $39 a month off the average Illinois household's power bill, based on today's electric use.

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Why does local solar reduce costs? Local solar and storage assets ease stress on the electric system during critical peak hours when power use is the highest, thereby reducing how much bulk-scale power is needed to serve the state's grid. This means the state's utilities don't have to overbuild the system with expensive new fossil fuel plants, and more transmission than is needed.

The analysis also showed that investing in local solar provides other valuable benefits beyond cost, including massive job creation, cleaner air, and more rapid reductions in carbon emissions. We're off to a good start -- Illinois approved more than 25,000 new rooftop and community solar projects in the last few years before our state program ran out of funding. And the analysis found that if we pass state policies to scale local solar and batteries in Illinois' clean energy plan, we will create 63,000 more local family-sustaining jobs by 2030. It would also lead to a rapid decline in air pollution from burning fossil fuels, while avoiding an additional 15% of carbon emissions through 2050.

The report's conclusions are consistent with national studies which show that the old model of only building big utility power plants isn't the best deal for consumers or the climate. Investing in distributed, local energy projects generates cost savings for the grid and all customers. Nationally, one study found that scaling our investments in local solar and batteries could save America $473 billion and create 2 million sustainable jobs over the next three decades.

The results of these studies are groundbreaking because they demonstrate that we can save money AND build a grid that delivers greater benefits for all Illinoisans.


The Illinois General Assembly only has a few days left to deliver the historic energy legislation we've been debating for years. Our state leaders should pay attention to these results and adopt an energy policy that makes early investments in local solar and battery storage. A winning energy policy is one that prioritizes our communities and saves all residents money. With more local solar, Illinois can reduce its emissions more quickly, save money, create more jobs, and develop a grid that is more equitable, resilient, and customer-driven by scaling rooftop and community solar power.

Investing locally always pays dividends, there's no reason to stop short on investing in local solar and batteries. Now is the time to create a sustainable local economy for all Illinoisans.

• Lesley McCain is executive director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. Rob Sargent is campaign director for Local Solar for All

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